A Job Seeker Looks at 40

Actually 43, but I’m not going to split hairs. The point is that I’m creeping towards middle age and (still) looking for work (again). (Or, more accurately, looking for work anew.)

Many factors led me to this circumstance, most of them my own doing; almost all in some way connected to an inherent sense of restlessness and my tendency towards temporization (and, apparently, alliteration).

I’m a bit of a rolling stone, you see. During the past twenty years I’ve lived in eleven cities and approximately two dozen homes. I’ve been a yoga teacher, a temp, an inn keeper, a house cleaner, a school administrator, a freelance writer, a reunion coordinator, a dog walker, a kindergarten teacher and a house sitter, not to mention a mother and wife. Part of what’s going on with me being out of work right now is my failure to launch. I get high on possibilities but bottom out by go-time. All of my energy expended during the roll out, none of it left for the voyage at hand.

I also secretly want to be a pirate. And not for the raids and plunder, but for the creativity, innovation, and implementation the lifestyle allows. (Also, tangentially, the hats and the jewels.) Every job I’ve ever left (and I’ve left every one of them at some point) has been riddled with mediocrity, both in function and in form. And what I mean by that is this: there are 1,647 different things that I could spend my days doing and what I’ve learned I want to spend my days doing (are only) the things that I both love and that I am good at.

I have yet to stumble upon that balance/bonanza.

My biggest fear, of course, is that perhaps I’m not really very good at anything at all (and middle age is certainly the time when that reality must be finally, honestly confronted) but no matter the verdict of that particular ballot, my own partiality is non-negotiable. I know what I like. I’ve been miserable for long enough to know its rival. Plus, I’ve learned to recognize the moments when my hair stands on end and I’m lost to time and space wanting nothing more than to keep doing what I’m doing f-o-r-e-v-e-r.

It’s the pirate’s life, you see? Pleasure, yes. But also fearlessness. And strength. And an integrity of purpose. To me there’s no higher aspiration.

Or, a more impossible one.

I’ve worked as a teacher four (separate) times in my life and after every single, without exception-multiple-year tenure I’ve agreed to, I’ve ended up totally and completely hating my days (not the kids, mind you) but the hours of my days and…eventually, thankfully quit. And then over and over again (due to shoddy finances or (shoddy) fear or plain old guilt) crawled back to the very same work like a repentant sailor, hoping that my earnestness might be enough to make me stay; to make me love it (this time) somehow.

What of this coercion? Of this march I’m doing towards a(nother) duplicitous fate? In the past two months I’ve watched myself brush off my resume and polish my credentials and sit with the principal of the local elementary school, look her directly in the eyes and say, “I can’t wait to be back in the classroom again.” Seduced by a (decent) salary and an ostensibly short work day; by health insurance coverage and summer vacations (which free up lots of time to visit Gina, to be sure) I’m seemingly willing to once again to sacrifice my happiness–my life?–for a shorter, sexier gain. For a semblance of respect. For money and an indication of (some kind of) victory.

It’s a good thing you learn a few things by the time you’re looking for work after 40: you’ve become familiar with your own tricks. You’ve learned to observe your own slights-of-hand that try to convince you that stability is more important that passion; that solvency is more urgent than art. Sure, I’m still sending out resumes for jobs I already know I’d hate, but I’m doing it now with an awareness of something I didn’t want to admit when I was sending out (the same) resume when I was 22: It’s okay to wait for what you love.

At 4(3) I’m learning to recognize that which I love: Poetry. Words. Quiet. Conversation. The hard lock of Friendship. My thesaurus. Waking up at 5am. Identifying a bird’s song and naming the tree they’re singing from. Embarking on the open sea at dawn.

I have no idea what kind of job might bring all of these things together, but I’m confident that, with time I will find the treasure. Until then, there’s always hope. And pillaging.


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